Behold, I am Against the Shepherds
It is not often that the shepherds are addressed in Scripture. Where they are it is well for the Lord’s people to pay particular attention.
In a certain sense all but the very newly converted should be shepherds. Who has not seen quite a small child caring for the baby of the family, and throwing her protecting arm round the helpless infant? In like manner we often see a young Christian seeking to care for a still younger Christian. Is this not the spirit of the Good Shepherd who cares for the sheep? And starting with this humble instance we rise till we see the full-blown “pastor and teacher” gift from the Lord, the glorified Head in heaven, “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12).
What need there is for care in the Church of God! Ezekiel 34 is a very remarkable chapter addressed wholly to the shepherds and sheep of Israel. The divine principles that are there unfolded can, however, be strikingly applied to the shepherds or pastors in Christendom. It would be a good exercise for all who have the care of the Lord’s people at heart, if they were to read this wonderful chapter till its lessons penetrate deeply into their hearts.
The chapter warns us against the evil ways of the shepherds and instructs us as to the right ways as set forth in Christ, the true Shepherd of Israel.
The first complaint is that the shepherds fed themselves and not the sheep. They took from the sheep, instead of giving to the sheep. They ate the fat and clothed them with the wool. Further, the diseased were not strengthened, nor were the sick healed, and they ruled with force and cruelty.
In this solemn indictment have we not a vivid anticipation of the ways of many of the prelates and priests of the Romish Church in the dark middle ages, and has it not its counterpart in many a quarter even in this 20th century? We may single out gross examples, but in a more refined way this sort of thing exists all around us.
May it be a warning to us all! When we think more of ourselves than of the great Shepherd, then we shall think more of ourselves than of the sheep. Christianity consists of self-giving, not in self-getting.
It was for this selfish conduct that the Lord said, “Behold, I am against the shepherds.” The flock would be required at their hand; and as a punishment they would neither be allowed to feed the flock, nor feed themselves, the latter a condign chastisement indeed.
How beautiful to turn from these heartless, greedy, and cruel shepherds to see what the true Shepherd would do. He would seek out the scattered sheep. He would deliver them. He would bring them to their own land, and feed them upon the mountains of Israel by the rivers. Doubtless this will be fulfilled when the Lord gathers Israel, now scattered among the nations, back to their own land, and purifying the land by the great tribulation, and conferring the spirit of grace and of supplication upon His ancient people, they will keep for the first time in reality the great day of atonement, and welcome their Messiah—the Shepherd of Israel—and thus be kept in peace and security.
Under the shepherds of Israel—the high priests and elders—the Jews had been led to refuse their Messiah and crucify Him—hence the awful scattering, and the consequent refusal to allow the shepherds to feed the flock. Where have been the Jewish high priests for many a long day? They have not existed.
To apply all this to ourselves. Do we seek after the lost sheep today; do we bring back those which have been driven away; do we bind the broken and strengthen the sick? How much of the scattering there has been, and how little of gathering. The flesh scatters. It is the Spirit who gathers. Anyone can scatter, but it takes divine power to do the gathering.
And what a judgment will fall on the false shepherds, who feed themselves and not the flock of God. The Lord will feed them WITH JUDGMENT. How true this is today. Division comes. The power of gathering is gone. The Spirit is grieved, and it is no uncommon sight to see those who have been prominent in scattering reaping what they have sowed, and left almost, if not quite, in isolation in their closing days. May we pay heed to these things.
Next the Lord would judge between cattle and cattle (the margin of the Bible says, small cattle of lambs and kids); between rams and he-goats (margin, great he-goats). It was a question between the strong and the weak. What is the right use of strength but to protect the weak?
How was their strength utilized? Alas! not only to secure for themselves the good pasture, but to tread down the residue with their feet and make it unfit for food—to drink of the deep waters, but foul the residue with their feet. Do matters end there? Surely not. There is One that judgeth. He charges them with thrusting with side and shoulder and pushing the diseased cattle with their horns till they were scattered.
Is there not a searching lesson in this for us all? Is there not the tendency to treat with coldness and severity those who can be classed as “diseased”—to walk aloof from those who might be classed as weak and feeble? It is not wise to blink at facts. What cruelty and injustice have been practised in the name of Christ, perhaps not willingly and of intent, but often through mistaken ideas of faithfulness! These verses hit off many a situation that crowds in upon one’s memory.
But the Lord comes in as the great Contrast to all this. Blessed Master! May we drink in of His Spirit. Jehovah will save His flock. He will judge between cattle and cattle. What a day that will be when once and for all the troubles, difficulties and divisions will be judged aright. What a day that will be! The hard spirit will be judged, just as softness that will make no faithful stand for the truth will be judged. One anticipates this day with eagerness. Each one of us who really desires to please the Lord must hail that day, when we shall see eye to eye with Him, when we shall say goodbye to everything that has not been according to His will, and when all that has been of Himself shall be so recognized to His praise.
Jehovah in the day of our chapter will set up one shepherd over His earthly people, even His servant, David, that is Christ, their Messiah. A covenant of peace shall be made with them in that day, evil beasts will cease out of the land, the sheep of His hand shall dwell safely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods—just in the places which would have been dangerous and unsafe in the former times.
How beautifully the whole ends, “THERE SHALL BE SHOWERS OF BLESSING” (v. 26), and how tenderly the whole concludes, “Thus shall they know that I the LORD their God am with them, and that they, even the house of Israel, are My people, saith the Lord GOD. And ye My flock, the flock of My pasture, are men, and I, am your God, saith the Lord GOD” (vv. 30-31).
What a comfort to us today that God is our God, and that we can say, “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want” (Ps. 23:1)—to know Him as the “Good Shepherd,” who “giveth His life for the sheep” (John 10:11); the” Great Shepherd,” “brought again front the dead. . . through the blood of the everlasting covenant” (Heb. 13:20); and the “chief Shepherd,” who will reward the faithful under shepherds in the day of His appearing (1 Pet. 4:4).
The Lord is the Shepherd of Israel; He is also the Shepherd of His people today. May the under-shepherds catch the spirit and imitate the patience and graciousness yet faithfulness of their Master. It is said of such, “And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away” (1 Pet. 4:4). And Peter, who penned this by inspiration, could speak by personal experience of the tenderness and faithfulness of the Good Shepherd, for he had actually denied Him with oaths and curses, and yet the Lord had restored him after probing him to the very bottom of that which had led to his fall, and when restored actually chose Peter to be His mouthpiece on the great day of Pentecost. What a Master! What an example! Our hardness, our lack of patience, our many, many, mistakes in this line may well humble us to the dust. How often we have, metaphorically speaking, chosen a powerful hatchet as our instrument for repairing, the delicate mechanism of a watch.
The writing of this article will be well repaid if it leads to Ezekiel 34 being read again and again on bended knee in the Lord’s presence, resulting in our receiving in fuller measure the spirit of the Good Shepherd. Everywhere the writer goes there is a cry for pastors—those who will minister in public and in private and in visiting to the beloved sheep and lambs of Christ’s flock.